Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs)

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The vivid colours of Everquest 2
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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 9 August 2013


See also Avatars | Gaming in health | Health librarian 2.0 | Massive open online courses (MOOCs)‎ | MMORPGs in Public Health‎

Massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) are computer games that support many players which enable them to cooperate, socialize and compete on a international scale (if they so desire). In addition, MMORPGs provide the opportunity for people to interact with each other in all kinds of meaningful and even intimate ways. It could be said that the principles of web 2.0 apply to MMORPGs, but clearly some games are just that - games. (The photo at right is from EverQuest 2).

Role-playing seems to encompass a wide variety of gameplay types, representing many video game genres going back decades. To develop expertise, many games require participants to invest a lot of time. Unlike other social media, many web-based games require users to pay monthly subscription fees. The most popular, free-to-register MMORPG is Second Life. As a gaming and virtual world, SL transcends a library's physical building and services. It encourages digital collaboration between health professionals and consumers in a simulated environment that may or may not resemble the complexity of most MMORPGs.

Features of MMORPGs

MMORPGs always allow players to communicate with one another, and are therefore inherently social places - which, of course, is a reason for considering them web 2.0. Depending on the other interactions allowed by the game, other social expectations may be present. Many MMORPGs exploit the cognitive and social skills of players, and may even offer online support for the game through what is known as in-game guilds or clans. These usually form whether the game supports them or not; however, players find themselves as either members or leaders of these groups at some point after playing an MMORPG for some time.

Even if players never join formal groups, there is an expectation to participate as a team during game play and to carry out pre-defined roles. In combat-based games, roles include the tank, a character who absorbs enemy blows and protects others; the healer, responsible for keeping up the health of the party; and crowd control, a character who controls the opponent such as the non-player character. Any given MMORPG might allow players to take on all of these roles, additional hybrid roles or none at all. Despite variability, some players enjoy playing one role over others and continue to play it through different MMORPG titles.

Health benefits

Could gaming be good for your health?

Schott and Hodgetts (2006) describe some of the positive health benefits associated with the use of game technologies in relation to surgical training and therapeutic interventions, physical exercise, health education and community participation. Games can provide shared spaces that promote social interaction through which a sense of belonging and participation can be fostered.

The emerging research seems to suggest that people engaging in online communities with high levels of social capital and mutual support tend to be healthier. The cultivation of shared identities, trust, mutual support, shared interests and public narratives are central to fostering participation in health promotion practices. When it comes to developing ways of working with young people to further enhance their health, we should carefully consider youth sub-cultural practices and work with communities of practice within such populations, rather than just engineer traditional support groups or online communities. In this respect, gaming may become a tool for health research and interventions aimed at understanding and promoting organic forms of civic participation and improving population health.

Learning aspects

The power of video games for teaching and learning new skills cannot be over-estimated. Scholars in the field of game studies argue that the peripheral and accidental learning that goes on behind the scenes as a child, teenager or adult engages in an interactive video game is considerable. Harnessing the power and creating the recipe for success are more difficult. However, caution is needed; when educators espoused the glories of edutainment, for example, that industry failed to thrive.

Given that the idea to use games to teach is not a new concept, why should we go down this road again? One reason is that new generations of young people use technology differently (Prensky, 2001); they are born and bred using games, and educated as visual learners with a preference for active learning. They also have an intolerance for purely passive learning in traditional lecture-style teaching. The potential for building a video game to incorporate knowledge and information is appealing to educators. Librarians with an aptitude for technology and an interest in promoting active learning in training modules will find the idea of incorporating library instruction in a video game just as attractive. It's one way to get beyond the boredom that students often associate with information literacy, and library instruction programs.

Psycho-social aspects of MMORPGs

Since the interactions between MMORPG players are real, even if the environments are not, an emerging area of gaming research involves psychologists and sociologists who are using MMORPGs as tools for their academic research.

  • Richard Bartle, for example, classifies RPG-players into four primary groups. His psychological classification system has been expanded by Erwin Andreasen who developed a questionnaire. The Bartle Test helps players determine which psychological profile they belong to. With 200,000 test responses as of 2006, this is perhaps the largest ongoing survey of multiplayer game players.
  • Nick Yee has surveyed 35,000 gamers. His research suggests that 15% of players become guild-leaders, and that gamers spend a lot of time (often a third of their total time) doing things that are directly-related to, but outside of, the game itself. Many players report that the emotions they feel while playing a game are so strong that, in one study, 8.7% of the men and 23.2% of the women decided to have online weddings. Some researchers find that enjoyment of a game is directly related to its social organization ranging from brief encounters to highly organized play in structured groups.
  • Sherry Turkle is a clinical psychologist who is conducting interviews with computer users including game-players, and who has been referred to as "cybershrink" by the media. In her research, she has discovered that many people have expanded their emotional range by exploring the many different roles (including gender identities) that MMORPGs allow gamers to explore. Turkle also explores the psychological and societal impact of such "relational artifacts" as sociable robots, and how these and other technologies are changing attitudes about human life and concepts about what it means for something to be alive. One result may be a devaluation of authentic experience in relationships.
  • In the World of Warcraft - often called WoW - a programming glitch attracted the attention of psychologists and epidemiologists across North America when the corrupted blood ability of a monster began to spread unintentionally into the wider game world. The United States Center for Disease Control used the incident as a research model to chart both progression of a disease, and the potential human response to large-scale epidemic infections.

Librarians & MMORPGs

  • Jenny Levine is a librarian who writes about gaming on her blog The Shifted Librarian. She is also the Internet Development Specialist and Strategy Guide for the American Library Association's Information Technology and Technical Systems and Publishing departments.


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